Jack Keeney is a man of many talents.
He’s headed up the welcoming station of the Pulaski business community. He’s steered the organization that provides food to the needy.
Now he’s dipping his toe into the Civil War.
Keeney is the new executive director of the Mill Springs Battlefield Association (MSBA), the group tasked with overseeing perhaps the area’s greatest historical treasure.
Keeney is replacing David Gilbert, who is retiring after a stint as interim director.
It hasn’t been that long since Keeney himself was a retiree — although that period lasted only a few days. Keeney had previously been serving as executive director of God’s Food Pantry in Somerset, where he oversaw the distribution of meals to low-income families in the area.
Keeney retired from that position effective the start of 2014 — which, of course, was only about a week ago.
“It was just a matter of (being asked), ‘Would you consider coming out and doing this for us?’” said Keeney, who has also served as executive director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce. “I looked into it and decided I wasn’t any good at lying around and being retired. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”
So Keeney started this past Monday, and has been busy familiarizing himself with the ins-and-outs out the Mill Springs Battlefield Association, including their crown jewel, the Battlefield Museum on west Ky. 80 in Nancy.
“So far, I’m getting to know the actual history of the Mill Springs battlefield, and the how the system worked, before getting to know all about the board members, and the Nancy community,” said Keeney.
At least Keeney is familiar with one thing central to this particular job — history. Particularly, the history of the Civil War, of which the Battle of Mill Springs has proven to be one of the key events.
“Oh yeah, I’m a history buff,” said Keeney. “I’ve tried to keep up with things. I took a history course in college that I didn’t have to take, a History of the South course, so all along, I’ve been a fan of the Civil War.”
The Battle of Mill Springs occurred on January 19, 1862 in Pulaski and Wayne Counties and was the first significant victory for the Union Army in the west. The Confederate defeat at Mill Springs blazed a trail for Union troops to move from Kentucky into Tennessee.
Keeney is entering the fray at an opportune juncture, as these are exciting times for the Mill Springs Battlefield and the organization that oversees it.
For once, Somerset’s own Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers is in the midst of efforts to get the battlefield integrated into the U.S. National Parks System, which would increase visibility of the battlefield for tourists across the country and potentially have an economic impact on the community as a whole.
Also, in October, it was announced that approximately 100 new acres were being brought into the western Pulaski-area battlegrounds to be preserved, and that another deal was in the works that would hopefully bring the Mill Springs Battlefield size up to about 600 acres when finalized.
The hiring could bring a bit of stability to the directorship of the Battlefield Association. Almost exactly a year ago at this same time, Alabama marketing expert Stephen McKinney was hired for the job. Shortly thereafter, however, he was replaced by Gilbert to serve as interim director, which he did for the remainder of 2013.
“The Mills Springs Battlefield Association Board of Directors wants to thank Mr. Gilbert for his services and welcomes Mr. Keeney to his new position,” announced the MSBA in a written statement.
Added Keeney, “Dave Gilbert has done a good job. I just agreed to come in and follow him. Maybe have some continuity, to continue on with good leadership and hopefully bring some community awareness.
Keeney’s role in promoting the community and the food bank (which is always in need of donations) in his previous jobs could come in handy for the task of spreading the word about the battlefield.
“I can hopefully build some good bridges,” he said, noting the ability to help the cause of making the battlefield a national park. “I have a pretty good relationship with Congressman Rogers and Sen. (Mitch) McConnell.”
Keeney also said applying for grants and giving out information to the public among the key aspects of his new position.
“This is a preservation program,” he said. “Our main objective is to preserve the integrity of the battlefield. We want to make sure we’re following all the rules and regulations, and have all policies in procedures in place. That’s you’re biggest challenge, making sure you’re in compliance. Then you’ve got to work closely with the non-profit board to make sure I’m on the path they want me to be on.
“It is just a really rewarding job,” he continued. “My challenge is to get the word out there and making sure the community knows what’s going on at the battlefield. I’m not sure everyone here has been out to the battlefield, and that’s the challenge, to get everyone out here to visit.”